Attached are the reports summarising the work of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in September 2018.
The Council noted reports prepared by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority summarising the work of the Authority during September 2018.
The Council’s representatives on the Combined Authority were invited to comment on the reports, as summarised below.
Councillor Bridget Smith, the Leader of the Council, provided an update on the following issues:
· The Combined Authority had established a number of committees. She was a member of the Housing Committee and Councillor Eileen Wilson was a member of the Skills Committee.
· The Housing Committee had met in the previous week and had considered its terms of reference. She was continuing the work of her predecessor, Councillor Peter Topping, in fighting to ensure that South Cambridgeshire received its fair share of the £100m affordable housing fund and that such funding was allocated on the grounds of greatest housing need by reference to a business case. Additionally, she had emphasised the increased complexity in preparing scheme bids for the important strategic sites in South Cambridgeshire.
· The boundaries of the Business Board (previously the Local Enterprise Partnership) would now be coterminous with those of the Combined Authority.
· The Combined Authority was starting work to take on health and social care.
· The outcome of the Business Rates retention bid was still awaited.
· The recommendations in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) report had now been accepted by the Combined Authority and actions developed to respond to those recommendations.
Councillor Philip Allen reported that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had met twice since September. As reported in the press, the Mayor had acknowledged underestimating the cost of his administration’s running costs and that he should have supported the Cambourne to Cambridge busway. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had received a detailed presentation from the Interim Chief Finance Officer on the Medium Term Financial Plan. The Interim Chief Finance Officer had referred to various on-going feasibility studies and had highlighted the need to prioritise schemes. The Committee felt that it was finally beginning to receive the level of detail needed in order effectively to carry out its role.
Councillor Peter Topping reported that he had substituted for Councillor Chamberlain at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. At the meeting the Housing Director had indicated that the Combined Authority had not received bids from South Cambridgeshire for the £100m affordable housing fund. Councillor Topping acknowledged the earlier comments by the Leader about the particular difficulties in bringing forward schemes in South Cambridgeshire, but understood that South Cambridgeshire’s previous Director of Housing had schemes in the pipeline and accordingly he urged that the Council put forward bids for affordable housing.
Councillor Tony Mason noted that the next Audit Committee meeting would take place in the following week and therefore there was no update for this meeting.
The Chairman then invited questions to the Council’s representatives.
Councillor Deborah Roberts expressed concern at the current operation of the Combined Authority, in particular highlighting the increase in the running costs of the organisation. She therefore asked whether the Leader felt that the concerns about the running of the Authority and its apparent lack of accountability were being acknowledged by the Combined Authority and, if not, whether there was a need for an independent review of the Authority.
Councillor Brian Milnes recalled a criticism of the former East of England Development Agency that it spent £1 for every £4 it invested and was concerned that the Combined Authority might be moving in that direction. He therefore asked the Leader to impress upon the Combined Authority the need for frugality in its operations.
Councillor Bridget Smith, the Leader of the Council:
· Took on board Councillor Topping’s comments about making bids for affordable housing and acknowledged the need to ensure the submission of bids in order to secure funding. She reported that the Whittlesford development by Clarion Homes was funded by the Combined Authority and also noted that the last forward plan listing developments to be funded had included the scheme for 880 key worker houses at Northstowe. The Leader accepted that there had been a desire for schemes to be suitably developed before submitting bids, but lessons had been learned and the intention was now to submit bids at the earliest appropriate opportunity
· Responded to the first question from Councillor Deborah Roberts by indicating her view that the level of challenge and questioning in relation to the operation and transparency of the Combined Authority was beginning to have a positive effect. Meetings were now more productive, it appeared that mistakes were being acknowledged and apologies given. The change in the political composition of the Board meant that there could now be proper challenge and debate and an opportunity to hold people to account. Whilst unable to explain the reasoning for the underestimate of the costs of operation of the Combined Authority, she was aware that this was being examined. A new Interim Chief Finance Officer had been appointed and had bought a fresh perspective to reviewing the finances of the organisation and other high calibre staff had been engaged.
· Reported, with respect to the second question from Councillor Deborah Roberts, that she, together with the Leader of Cambridge City Council, had called for the commissioning of an independent organisational review to give assurance as to the impact, independence and transparency of the Combined Authority. This proposal had not been approved, but a review was being undertaken by the two interim Chief Executives which would focus on the internal staffing structure.
· Concluded that the Combined Authority appeared to be moving in the right direction and that she felt relatively optimistic. She acknowledged that South Cambridgeshire District Council was a partner in the Combined Authority and that it was important to play its part in the organisation to make it work.
Council RECEIVED the reports summarising the work of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in September 2018.